Watch Intuitive Machines’ private Odysseus lander attempt a historic moon landing

By | February 24, 2024

Update before 7:00 PM ET: Touchdown! Intuitive Machines reports that its IM-1 lander Odysseus has landed on the moon and is transmitting a weak but clear signal. “Houston, Odysseus has found his new home,” said mission director Tim Crain.
Check out our full landing story, video and photos.


We are just hours away from what could be the first moon landing by a US spacecraft in 50 years, a success that would boost the country’s hopes of eventually establishing a long-term presence on the moon as part of its Artemis mission. program.

Odysseus (nicknamed “Odie”), a 4.3-meter lander built and operated by the Houston company Intuitive machineswill try to land nearby the south pole of the moon today at 6:24 PM EST (2330 GMT).

You can tune in live to the landing here on Space.com, courtesy of NASA, or directly through the space agency. Coverage begins at 5:00 PM EST (2200 GMT).

Related: Intuitive Machines’ private Odysseus probe takes first moon photo and enters lunar orbit ahead of historic landing attempt

a gold and silver spacecraft is launched from the silver upper stage of its rocket, with the piece of Earth in the background.

a gold and silver spacecraft is launched from the silver upper stage of its rocket, with the piece of Earth in the background.

Odysseus left on February 15 for a six-day journey to the moon, with twelve payloads, six of which are NASA science and technology instruments. (The agency paid Intuitive Machines $118 million for the ride to the moon.) After sailing more than 620,000 miles (1,000,000 kilometers), the telephone booth-sized spacecraft yesterday (Feb. 21) accomplished maneuvers that place it in a tight circular orbit around the moon a day before landing.

“We’re very excited, but also very nervous,” said Jack Burns, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who is the principal investigator of one of NASA’s scientific instruments aboard Odysseus. “The success was mixed going to the surface of the moon.”

If all goes according to plan, Odysseus will land today on the rim of a small crater called Malapert A, about 300 km from the moon’s south pole on the Earth-facing side. Success would be historic, as no private probe has ever made a soft landing on the moon before.

Others have tried. Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, which launched last month, was caused by a propellant leak and eventually crashed back to Earth. Israel’s Beresheet and Japan’s Hakuto-R landers both reached lunar orbit but crashed during their landing attempts. April 2019 And April 2023respectively.

Malapert A was the second location chosen for Odysseus’ mission, known as IM-1. The first took place in Oceanus Procellarum, the largest basalt plain on the moon, which is also a potential landing site for the Artemis program, NASA’s aim to return astronauts to the moon for the first time since launching astronauts Apollo era. Last year, however, Intuitive Machines changed the landing site to Malapert A due to concerns about contaminating the region if Odysseus were to crash.

“A landing near Malapert A will also help mission planners understand how to communicate and send data back to Earth from a location low on the lunar horizon,” NASA said in a statement. rack at the time.

Malapert A is relatively flat and therefore safe to land on, and Odysseus will target a landing area the size of an American football field, Burns said. During the descent, the spacecraft will rely primarily on real-time images and on-board navigation software to adjust its speed and land gently near the crater.

“It’s a new place to land,” Burns told Space.com. “I think Intuitive Machines has done everything they can to prepare.”

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– Why Chandrayaan-3 landed near the moon’s south pole – and why everyone else wants to get there too

IM-1’s surface mission is expected to last about half a lunar day, or about seven Earth days. (It takes about 27 Earth days for the moon to rotate once on its axis.)

“Our Monday will be a little shorter than other places,” Burns said. “But we can do a lot of good science in that time.”

The short mission timeline also stems from the fact that the sun at Malapert A will already be up by the time Odysseus arrives. The landing area is over 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day, so radiators built into the spacecraft are expected to protect it from getting too hot.

However, the lunar lander cannot survive a freezing night on the moon because there is no heating on board to keep the electronics at operating temperature. Scientists expect observations to continue as long as the battery lasts, until a few hours after sunset.

Future missions will likely be equipped with space heaters to help spacecraft survive the harsh lunar night, Burns said. But for this one, “we just want to land, do some good, solid science during Monday and declare victory.”

This story was updated with the updated landing time on Feb. 22 at 2:35 p.m.

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